Almost every month, AI seems to be getting better, cleverer and faster. Whilst the rise of AI is impacting a broad swathe of our life (from how banks’ credit assessment techniques to how Amazon suggests products for us), criminals are also learning to use AI better. This long read focuses on how powerful new techniques for stealing money are being created using AI:
“It was 7 a.m. when Benjamin Perkin’s parents got an alarming call. The person on the other end of the line identified themselves as a lawyer and said Perkin had killed a U.S. diplomat in a car accident, was in jail, and needed money for legal fees. The lawyer then put Perkin on the phone. “Hey Mom and Dad, I love you. I appreciate you. I need this money,” he said. A few hours later, the lawyer called back, requesting $15,000 that same day to get Perkin out of jail. “Yes, I need the money,” Perkin assured his parents.
Perkin’s parents were terrified. They had a brief moment of wondering if this could possibly be a scam, but they remembered that the voice on the phone sounded just like their son’s. They quickly got the money from a bank and sent it through a Bitcoin terminal, as instructed. A few hours later, the real Perkin made his regular phone call to his parents, just checking in. That’s when they realized they’d been scammed. It wasn’t Perkin on the phone that morning—but it did sound like him, thanks to A.I.”
Pranshu Verma explains how this technology works: “Essentially, you take 30 seconds, a minute, a few minutes of a person’s voice. You can find that on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube … You upload it to a website. And then that A.I. software analyzes everything that makes your voice unique—how old you are, your accent, your gender, your regional differences, every little part of your voice. Then, it goes into a vast database of voices that it has analyzed. After that, if you’re going to say, for example, the word “hello,” it knows how you would say hello, how every little phoneme might sound. Using these online tools, you can type in “Hi, I’m in danger,” and using a clone voice, you can make it say that.”
This sort of voice cloning technology is apparently available very easily online. So much so, that in less than a minute, you can clone whoever’s voice you want to. Verma goes on to say that the police in USA have no idea regarding how to deal with this sort of crime: “Here’s the thing: If you lose money, you go to the police, and then the police want to know how to investigate it. We talked to somebody who had two decades of experience in consumer fraud, and they said, even if you lose $20,000, yes, it’s devastating for that grandmother or that father or mother who loses that money, but for a police organization, if they’re small, they might not have a dedicated team to track down consumer fraud. If they’re big, they have other priorities, too. Do they put three detectives on the case with no information, potentially a spoof phone number, no idea where that phone number’s from, no other leads?”
So what can you do to protect yourself from this sort of scam: ““If you ever get a call from a loved one asking for money, pause that call right away and then call that loved one yourself. Call that number that you know, and confirm that it’s actually them.” If somebody’s asking you to give money in the form of a gift card or at some weird location—to go to a Bitcoin terminal or go meet in a car someplace—be incredibly suspicious. Trust your gut here.
Informally, we’ve actually heard a lot of families who, in order to protect their elders, have created somewhat of a safe word. So the son or the daughter might say, “Hey, Mom, Dad, if I’m actually at risk, I’m going to say the word ‘pineapple,’ and that’s how you’ll know that it’s actually me asking for money.””
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